MIAMISBURG, Ohio (WDTN) — A chalk initiative is helping break the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health.
“Let’s Chalk about Mental Health” is being held Saturday, Sept. 18, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in downtown Miamisburg.
“People don’t talk about it, so let’s chalk about it,” said Shawna Ayers, who’s helping plan and organize the event to help honor her brother.
“I always thought everything was all words. Even being in the mental health field you just … when somebody says they’re going to kill themselves you need to believe them. I just never thought that he would do something like that. But he did,” Ayers said.
In 2019, her brother, Gary Lee Brooks Junior, took his own life at age 27.
“As a sibling, it literally feels like a piece of our heart is missing,” Ayers said.
“I belong to a suicide group. I have those thoughts myself. There’s times I don’t want to be there anymore,” admits Gary’s mother, Joan Riddell. “I mean I have eight other kids, but it’s just hard knowing one of them’s gone. Takes part of you away. I’ll never be the same person again.”
Gary’s family took that pain and grief they felt and turned it into help for others.
This is the third year they’re holding a “Let’s Chalk about Mental Health” event, filling sidewalks with messages of hope and encouragement for those struggling.
Last year, their efforts made a difference for one passerby.
“We noticed a gentleman that was really taking his time looking at a lot of the messages,” Ayers said. “He was just really soaking in the information. A couple days after the event, that same gentleman contacted my sister through the Facebook event itself since it was public, sent her a message, and just let her know that– ‘I just want you to know that your messages saved my life.’ And that was it. I don’t know anything about him, but I know we saved his life.”
That’s the goal and purpose, as they work to spread awareness, squash the stigma, and honor Gary’s memory.
“I just wish people would open their eyes, open their ears, listen with their hearts and just understand that this is really important,” Ayers said.
“If we can save one life, it’s worth it to us,” Riddell said. “One will do it in his memory.”
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S.